A sublime Limerick writer who inspired a generation

The late Michael Curtin 'captured Limerick in all its glory' with a darkly comic twist

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

A sublime Limerick writer who inspired a generation

The late author Michael Curtin was captured in this magnificent picture by Dermot Lynch at Nancy Blake’s bar in 2012

HE was recently praised by the acclaimed Limerick author Kevin Barry, but for many of his fans the work of Michael Curtin was never appreciated widely enough in his own lifetime.

Born in Limerick in 1942, he was best known for his darkly comic novels depicting life and the many characters in his native city. He also published a number of short stories, most notably in  the New Irish Writing page of the Irish Press.

Barry  told the Limerick Leader that he is thankful that Michael Curtin's books have all been re-issued on Amazon for e-readers.

“Those in the know will know full well that Curtin is a truly sublime comic writer, and he should be vastly more famous than he is. If I had to pick one of his titles, it would be The League Against Christmas. 

“It’s very, very funny, but as in the best writing, there’s something darker and more poignant always underpinning the comedy.

“When I was growing up in Limerick in the 1970s and 1980s, there weren’t a lot of novelists around, at least novelists who were working at a seriously high level. But Michael Curtin was one example, at least, and was a hugely important presence in the city for lots of writers of my generation,” said the City of Bohane author.

Curtin was also described by Roddy Doyle as “one of Ireland’s best writers”.

His fourth novel, The Plastic Tomato Cutter (1991), set in his native city, was widely admired. He also penned The Self-Made Men, published by Penguin in 1980, The Replay, The League Against Christmas, The Cove Shivering Club and Sing. 

Launching The Plastic Tomato Cutter in 1991 in the Castletroy Park Hotel, he spoke to the audience about the poverty endured by many artists. “None of them are as tough or as resilient as I am and even I found the going hard.”

The University of Limerick’s Glucksman Library were also keenly aware of the value of his work, purchasing an archive from Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway in August 2005. 

The difficulties experienced even by established authors to get their work into print is illustrated by the 11 rejection letters from publishers for The Plastic Tomato Cutter. A small number of documents contain personal information and are closed for a period of 30 years.

There is also a letter from managing editor Keith Goldsmith, New York, to Curtin relating to The Replay’s  first and favourable review in the New Yorker magazine, as well as letters from  John B Keane in Listowel.

Efforts are now being made through literary circles to ensure a recently completed manuscript by Curtin will be published. “He was very well respected as a writer, and you could say he was one of Ireland's most unrecognised authors of literary fiction,” said Dominic Taylor, of the Limerick Writers’ Centre.

He said he hopes that some publisher will, with the blessing of the writer’s family, publish the work in the near future.

Eoin Devereux, faculty of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, of the University of Limerick, said Curtin was a comic genius. “His novels captured Limerick in all its glory. He told me once that like James Joyce, he would like Limerick to be recreated from them in the event of a nuclear bomb. He was a pleasure to talk to. I can still hear him ordering ‘a warm pint’ in Flannery’s bar. He had a great eye and ear for the surreal. Michael was also an expert crossword setter for the Limerick Leader many moons ago.”

Others remarked that he was a “gentleman who could finish the last clue in the crossword with a single glance”.

After finishing school in CBS Sexton Street, he worked in the cement factory and five years later left for London. It was there he began to turn his hand to writing. “I wrote a play in my own handwriting into two copy books and sent it to the Abbey. Six months later they sent it back because they could not read my writing. I never did anything with it after that.”

After he returned home he wrote a winning short story for Listowel Writers’ Week and it gave him the impetus to go on. His readers, who will no doubt grow, will thank him for that.

Late of Ballinacurra Gardens, he is survived by his wife Anne, sons Jason, Michael and Andrew, and daughter Sarah. His funeral mass was held in St Joseph’s church this Tuesday, and he was buried afterwards in Castlemungret cemetery.

Tribute by Limerick poet John Liddy, page 22